Views / Opinion

Until Trump, NFL seemed inseparable from America’s national fabric: Westwood

It’s truly mindboggling that Donald Trump can turn Americans, especially those in football’s heartland of the south, against the game.

New Orleans Saints players sit on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

New Orleans Saints players sit on the bench during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.

Like King Midas, President Donald Trump has got a special touch: He makes everything around him deeply, divisively political.

That is gold for his base, which feeds off Trump’s blustering conflict with numerous enemies foreign and domestic, but clearly not for America. And the NFL protests prove it.

The president — who’s unleashed dozens of tweets condemning football players in the last week — has created the kind of uproar over a sports game that one might have thought better directed towards rising military tensions with North Korea.

Instead, Trump’s penchant for tough talk spun the NFL into a frenzy not over racial injustice in America (the reason for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of kneeling during the national anthem last year that has, at this point, cost him his career), but the nature and primacy of patriotism in the U.S.

Fuming over the ongoing controversy over whether athletes visit his White House, Trump first went after NBA star Steph Curry last Friday on Twitter, taking back a White House invitation. Later that day, at a rally in Alabama, Trump referred to Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch” and suggested any NFL player kneeling during the anthem should be “fired!”

Louisiana’s lieutenant governor is now boycotting New Orleans Saints football games, and the entire NFL, after reams of teams displayed unity over the weekend with the protest by kneeling, sitting, linking arms or staying in their dressing room during the anthem, something he called “un-American” and “disgraceful.”

Two state lawmakers here are asking for a review or complete block of all tax breaks, funding and incentives given to the New Orleans Saints (roughly $165 million a year, according to a Times-Picayune newspaper estimate).

It’s a trend reverberating across the U.S. and boosted by Trump himself, who supports a boycott and demanded the NFL institute a rule banning kneeling during the anthem.

In another measure of this unprecedented political moment, it’s hard to believe that football could earn such ire in this country.

The game is indeed a powerful unifier. Despite its habit of deeply patriotic displays and ubiquitous pro-military rhetoric that often feel designed to mirror Republican politics, the game draws devotees from across the political spectrum — I’ve even heard of communists who are rabid fans. The local bars in New Orleans are a smorsgasbord of people worshipping the Saints, which is so much a second religion here that the church I attend plays “When the saints go marching in” at the end of every game-day mass.

Football’s importance in America is like hockey in Canada on steroids. Until Trump came along, it seemed inseparable from the national fabric. And it’s truly mindboggling that he can turn Americans, especially those in football’s heartland of the south, against the game.

But it’s not without warning. In Trump’s inauguration speech, he set the stage for much of what has come, especially his brand of patriotism that ties allegiance to him, the president, with allegiance to the flag, and makes room for only a certain kind of grievance with the state.

“A nation exists to serve its citizens,” he said while talking about factory closures, job losses, economic insecurity and crime. Those mark the “American carnage” that he promises to end. He did not, on the other hand, campaign against police shootings and racial discrimination, issues which seem to fall under his call for “total allegiance to the United States of America.” As in, not appropriate causes for rage against the system.

On that rainy January day, Trump urged the country to “pursue solidarity.” That was always going to be a tall order. But with this president in power, this man whose entire administration is built around knee-jerk shows of force and bravado, it appears utterly impossible. 

More on Metronews.ca